Britain’s Protector

David Oliver

Following the successful trans-Atlantic flight of MQ-9B SkyGuardian on 10-11 July 2018, five companies have formed an alliance to supply weapons, sensors and other equipment and components for current and future variants of the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) Protector unmanned aerial system (UAS) being developed for the UK Royal Air Force (RAF).

The weather-capable MQ-9B SkyGuardian is powered by a single 900-shp Honeywell TPE331-10 turboprop engine with digital electronic engine control, and incorporates robust features like de-icing/anti-icing systems, a damage-tolerant airframe, and a fire-protected engine bay.

The MQ-9B took off from GA-ASI’s Flight Test and Training Center in Grand Forks, N.D on July 10 at 12.48 pm (CDT) and landed at RAF Fairford at 6.51 pm (GMT) on July 11, covering a total of 3,760 nautical miles in 24 hours and 2 minutes.

The members of the alliance are Leonardo, GKN Aerospace’s Fokker business unit, MBDA, Raytheon UK and Cobham. Leonardo Airborne & Space Systems and GA-ASI signed an agreement to jointly integrate Leonardo’s SAGE electronic support measures system/electronic intelligence (ESM/ELINT) into the SkyGuardian and SeaGuardian variants of the GA-ASI MQ-9B medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAS.

SAGE is a digital ESM/ELINT sensor system offering the ability to detect, measure, identify, and geo-locate radio frequency signals of interest from a single platform to contribute to the tactical electronic intelligence picture and situational awareness. The system features parallel wideband and channelised digital receivers to achieve enhanced sensitivity, fine frequency measurement, and very high probability of intercept in the E-J band frequency range (2-18 GHz), with options for C/D band (0.5-2 GHz) and K band (18-40 GHz) extensions.

GA‑ASI and GKN Aerospace declared their intent to collaborate on composite tails for the MQ-9B in a Letter of Interest (LOI) signed at Farnborough 2018. GA-ASI has been partnered with GKN Aerospace’s Fokker business unit in the Netherlands since 2016 for production and sustainment of Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper landing gear subsystems. In April 2018, GKN Aerospace Deutschland and GA-ASI entered into a Technical Assistance Agreement (TAA) to expand GA-ASI’s carbon-composite capabilities by manufacturing major aerostructures for MQ-9B, the latest evolution of the multi-mission Predator B, in Germany. Following the successful completion of the required technical and commercial evaluations GA-ASI also intends to perform composite manufacturing for Protector UAS tail structures at GKN facilities in the UK.